The censuses can tell us:
- where our ancestors lived - the county, city, town, village, road or street and sometimes the exact house our ancestors resided in
- their age on the census day which can later help to finding their birth records
- their occupation - sometimes even whether they were employed or an employer
- who they lived with - immediate and extended family, did they have servants, were they living in a house where they worked?
- their marital status
- the town, city or village where they were born
The first National Census was taken on the 10th March 1801 and has been repeated every ten years ever since, except in 1941 when Britain was at war.
The dates and information obtained by each census are described below:
From 1801 to 1831 the census only included the names of the heads of each household. Few of the records survive and even fewer are available to search online.
1801 - 10th March - First national census
1811 - 27th May
1821 - 28th May
1831 - 29th May
They also now recorded:
- Ages rounded to the nearest five years if you were aged over fifteen years old
- Whether the person was born in the same county that they were presently residing in.
|1841 census returns for The Queen at Buckingham Palace|
1851 - 30th March
Seamen were now enumerated on the census night, although they were enumerated seperately from the normal house dwelling individuals.
New questions that were asked:
- Exact place of birth
- If any individuals had disabilites such as deafness, blindness or dumb
- Relationship to the head of household
|1851 Census returns for Charlotte Bronte|
1861 - 7th April
1871 - 2nd April
1881 - 3rd April - can be searched for FREE at many websites (see below for more details).
The census questions did not change much for forty years, so the above censuses are all very similar to the 1851 census.
1891 - 5th April
- Employment status was added
- Language spoken outside England (Scotland & Wales) was added
1901 - 31st March
- The question how many rooms are occupied in the house, if less than five.
|1901 census returns for Beatrix Potter|
1911 - 2nd April
- Suffragettes refused to give their details
- Nationality was added
- The duration of a couple's marriage was recorded
- The number of children born within that marriage along with the number of children still living and how many had died.
- Each household page was personally signed by the head of the household.
|1911 census for Winston Churchill's household|
1921 - 19th June
Is not yet searchable online but is due to be released in 2022.
1931 - 26th April
Destroyed during WW2
1941 - None
No census was taken due to Britain being in the midst of WW2.
On 29th September 1939 a register for England and Wales was taken so National Identity cards could be issued. (1939 National Register)
1951 - 8th April
1961 - 23rd April
1971 - 25th April
1981 - 5th April
1991 - 21st April
2001 - 29th April
2011 - 27th March
These more recent censuses will not be available to search for quite some time yet, as these records are closed for 100 years.
How to use the censuses for FREE!
- Censuses can be searched FREE at FreeCen
- The 1881 census can be searched for FREE at FamilySearch and also at many of the big subscription sites (Ancestry, FindMyPast etc) although you may need to register with the sites.
- Many local libraries offer FREE access to the censuses from their computers, see Join Your Local Library....
What are the differences between the websites?
- At FindMyPast and TheGenealogist you can search the databases by address as well as name.
- Ancestry and TheGenealogist offers a keyword search, eg searching an occupation without having to use a name, or a place without a name
- FreeCen is free but unfortunately not all the parishes are transcribed yet.
- Cost as well is a big difference between the subscription sites, but depending on what other things you may want to search might help you choose which site to subscribe to. The different sites all offer more than just the censuses from parish records to wills or occupational records from different places around the country or World.
Common problems when searching the censuses:
- Spelling mistakes.
- Transcription errors.
- People gave mis-information to hide their age or marital statuses.
- Your ancestors may have been hiding their identity with a different name, age or place of birth.
- Giving maiden names instead of married names.
- Nicknames were given, some common nicknames are: Polly for Mary Ann, Bill for William, Sandy for Alexander, Harry for Henry, Hamish or Seamus can be written as James and many more...thats an idea for a future blog post so watch this space. :)
Please remember to FOLLOW ME, if you like what you're reading and want more advise about searching your family tree. I would also love to hear from you with your feedback and comments.
For more information about the different censuses take a look at the 1911 Census website.
Some of the information is from an article Your Family Tree magazine November 2012 issue.
Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hogan